Extreme Case of Witness Intimidation

Justice for Six Slain Victims in Philadelphia

This Philadelphia row house was firebombed by individuals who worked for Philadelphia drug trafficker Kaboni Savage. Four children and two adults, family members of a federal witness, died in the fire. The adjacent row homes were also damaged.

This Philadelphia row house was firebombed by individuals who worked for Philadelphia drug trafficker Kaboni Savage. Four children and two adults, family members of a federal witness, died in the fire. The adjacent row homes were also damaged.

01/15/15

As far as witness intimidation goes, Philadelphia drug trafficker Kaboni Savage and members of his criminal enterprise appeared to corner the market on how far they’d go to silence anyone willing to testify against the organization. The most horrifying example of this was the brutal firebombing that resulted in the deaths of six members of a federal witness’ family in retaliation for his cooperation with law enforcement.

But a long-term, multi-agency investigation eventually proved that Kaboni Savage was responsible for those six murders—and at least six others—and that he headed a drug trafficking enterprise that excelled in using violence and other criminal tactics against anyone who threatened its drug trade. Recently, the final defendant charged in the firebombing deaths was sentenced to 40 years in prison, and Savage himself, convicted in 2013 on murder and racketeering charges, eventually received the death sentence.

In the late 1990s, Kaboni—then a small-time drug dealer—began buying cocaine in bulk and building his criminal organization. He was making a name for himself, especially for his often-brutal methods of operation— which included murders, beatings, kidnappings, and threats—against anyone who crossed him (customers, rival gang members, his own underlings, even law enforcement).

Law enforcement, however, had Kaboni in their cross hairs, and he and his organization soon became the focus of an investigation by the Philadelphia FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, made up of local, state, and federal agencies. In May 2004, Kaboni and others were indicted for conspiring to distribute cocaine, money laundering, firearms offenses, and later on, witness intimidation. The perpetrators were arrested and held for trial.

It was from jail that Savage orchestrated the arson murder of six members of Eugene Coleman’s family. Coleman, a member of Savage’s gang who was among those named in the May 2004 indictment, had agreed to cooperate in the case. Through visits with family members—including his sister, Kidada—and surreptitious phone calls with other gang members, Savage planned the murders and solicited the help of his sister and two other gang members—Lamont Lewis and Robert Merritt. Kidada Savage passed the plan on to the other two and identified the Coleman home. Then Lewis and Merritt, in the early morning hours of October 9, 2004, drove to the Philadelphia row house, fired warning shots into the residence, and threw two full gasoline cans with a lit cloth fuse into the home.

After extinguishing the flames, the fire department found the bodies of six victims—Coleman’s 54-year-old mother, his 15-month-old son, and four other relatives, including a 10-year-old girl and 12- and 15-year-old boys. (Coleman was incarcerated at the time of the arson.) Through investigative techniques like court-authorized electronic surveillance and the use of informants, members of the task force were eventually able to collect evidence—some of it in Kaboni Savage’s own words—of how the plot was hatched and carried out.

Kaboni Savage and four of his associates went to trial in November 2004 on the initial drug trafficking charges—14 others had already pled guilty before trial—and were convicted and sentenced. Eventually, though, Kaboni Savage and a number of his associates—including Kidada Savage—were indicted and ultimately convicted by a federal grand jury looking into the arson deaths of Coleman’s family.

By the time it was all over, Kaboni Savage’s criminal organization was dismantled—thanks in part to former associates and others willing to testify against him. And those six innocent people murdered in their home—one of many ruthless attempts by Savage to keep his operations running—finally received justice.